By P.H. Ferguson
The Union Tribune, January 13, 1999
LOS ANGELES -- In a move that could pit city dwellers against farmers, the Metropolitan Water District yesterday decided to ask the federal government to rethink the way Southern Californians share Colorado River water.
The U.S. Department of the Interior acts as the go-between for seven California water agencies that rely on the river.
The MWD board of directors resolved to ask U.S. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt to reconsider a 1931 agreement that gave a large portion of California's river water share to agriculture. No deadline was set, however.
The 1931 agreement is the backbone of Southern California's current water-sharing deal.
"This is like trying to change the Constitution," said Christine Frahm, who represents San Diego on the MWD.
California is among several states that share Colorado River water. It is allotted 4.4 million acre-feet a year but draws as much as 5.2 million acre-feet.
An acre-foot is nearly 326,000 gallons of water, or the amount used by about two households annually.
Other states and the federal government have been pressing California to start living within its allocation, said Bob Gomperz, an MWD spokesman.
Most of California's water is used on farms, with rural Imperial County sluicing off as much as 3.1 million acre-feet. The MWD -- concerned because Southern California's urban population is expected to nearly double by 2020 -- wants to pressure farms to use their water more efficiently, Gomperz said.
The MWD's 27 member public agencies provide nearly 60 percent of the water used by nearly 16 million people living in portions of San Diego, Riverside, Orange, Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Ventura counties.
The MWD also wants to pre-empt farmers from selling surplus water.
Environmentalists applauded yesterday's decision.
"This is an audacious proposal. It would challenge 67 years of the present system," said David Czamanske, an environmental and water consultant to the Sierra Club.
Currently, water from the Colorado River is shared by the MWD; Palo Verde Irrigation District; Imperial Irrigation District; Coachella Valley Water District; water agencies for San Diego and Los Angeles; and the federal government.